Debt Free Living: How This NYC High School Teacher Paid off $100,000 Debt.
Debt Free Living is a OneSavvyDollar series where we interview millennials who have successfully paid off any major debt i.e student loans, credit cards, or any other personal debt.
The aim is to inspire, encourage and motivate you to take hold of your personal finance because “financial fitness is not a pipe dream or a state of mind. It is a reality if you’re willing to pursue it and embrace it.”- Will Robinson
Can you tell us a bit about you?
What and when was your “sick and tired” of debt moment?
My “sick and tired” moment happened in 2013 when two events caused me to reach my breaking point:
a) I did not qualified for the income-based repayment plan because the government said I “made too much money”.
b) When I filed my taxes that year (2013), I got a letter from my loan providers that showed which of my interest payments were tax-deductible. I paid over $6,000 in interest in 2012, but my total balance trumped what I borrowed.
How did you acquire the debt and do you regret doing so?
I attended a private university on Long Island, NY, where I built up about $50,000 in student loans, from undergrad and (mostly) grad school. I regret doing this, especially since many of my colleagues went to CUNY for a lot less and are earning as much as I am.
How much debt did you pay off in total over what period of time? Also, do you know much money in interest and time you saved?
After I filed my taxes, I vowed to not spend the next 25 years of my life paying off my student loans (that was the schedule Sallie Mae set up for me).
Instead, I made huge lump sum payments every year. At the end of four years, I paid off 100,000 dollars now. Overall I’ve saved myself about 70,000 dollars and 16 years.
How much income were you earning as a NYC high school teacher when you accomplished this?
When I started to make large payments towards my debt, I earned about $55,000 a year as a NYC high school teacher. Over four years I received a few raises at work, and earn a bit more now.
Can you describe the specific choices you had to make to become debt free?
I focused on my mission to live on a very strict budget. This meant saving $1000-$1500 a month, which wasn’t easy as a NYC high school teacher.
I said “NO!” to a lot of things, including upgrading my phone or other electronics (no matter how much I wanted to), and buying a new car. Instead, I stayed home with my parents and limited fun activities that were costly, like eating out, traveling, going to the movies…etc.
I was really good at having fun for free.
Was there any time during your journey where your friends and or family challenged your plans to become debt free living?
My family was really supportive of my mission towards becoming debt free. My friends supported me also but certainly made it a bit more difficult.
They always did fun activities and wanted me to join, to “live my best life” or “treat myself”. I said no to countless parties, movie dates, eating out, and girl’s trips.
Were any resources such as blogs, books, podcasts particularly helpful to you in staying on track? Or where did you find your inspiration to stay on track through your journey?
I didn’t follow any particular finance or money management/saving blogs, books, or podcasts in particular. I read a lot, because most materials were free, kept me busy, and helped me stay on track.
Luckily, I had an intrinsic motivation/inspiration to stay on track because I wanted to keep more of my earnings, as a NYC high school teacher, instead of have most of it go towards paying off my debt.
I also had an interest in purchasing property, but my debt to income ratio stood in the way of getting approved for a mortgage.
What steps are you taking to ensure that you stay debt-free living now?
Accountability is my biggest motivator to stay debt-free. I never use my credit card unless I know I can pay it off at the end of the month. That helps me question if I really need something or if I just want it in the moment.
I share my budget goals, errors, and achievements publicly on my Millennial In Debt web series. Budgeting helps me hold myself more accountable and I can see when I do really well and when I have major shortcomings.
If you could go back in time and advise your 18 year old self, what money advice would you give her?
I would tell her to choose a school that is affordable instead of one all your friends go to. Look at the majors that interest you in and think about where they will take you.
What employment will you get? How much will that employment cost? How much are you spending preparing for it?
What advice do you have for anyone with debt who is looking for motivation to become debt free living?
Tackle your debts head-on. This will be scary at first, but your debt issues will only get worse if you don’t tackle them at the beginning.
Make sure you know everything there is to know about your loan. Reading is fundamental with lending companies. Read your promissory note and find out what the company expects from you and what kind of payments they want.
Can you pay them off early without fines? Are there multiple forgiveness/repayment options? Ask these questions and make sure they answer honestly and clearly.
How can our readers keep in touch with you?
Your readers can keep in touch with me on Instagram
Congratulations Melissa. We wish you much success in your financial journey!